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The Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4 - 3 on the third game of their best of 5 Stanley Cup qualifier of the 2019-20 season. The Blue Jackets did so after trailing 3 - 0 in the second period, but eventually got the game winner with less than 2 minutes to go in the first overtime period. The Blue Jackets also came back to win with the same score after being down 3 - 0 again in the second period of the first game of the first round playoffs the previous season against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The president trophy winning Lightning had posted the highest points total in the history of NHL regular season and were huge favorite to win the Cup, but after losing their 3 goal lead were swept by the wildcard Blue Jackets.

Interestingly enough, the next game of the series was also won 4 - 3, this time by the Maple leafs, who were down 3 - 0 with less than 4 minutes remaining in the third. They scored 3 after pulling their goalie and got the winner in the OT. Making both teams overcoming 3 goal deficits in back to back games. This made Toronto the third team ever to come back from 3 behind with less than 5 minutes remaining in the game in a playoff game.

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This makes me how many times in the Stanley Cup playoffs has a team come back trailing at least 3 goals down since 1980? What percentage of teams who trail at least 3 goals in the playoffs go on winning that game?

  • Really interesting question. I might be able to use the NHL Stats API to at least approximately answer this - we'll see. – Joe Aug 7 at 21:19
  • Can you drop me a link for the Stats API? If there is an API that has all the data (unlike the one the NFL has which has plenty of holes in their data) or a public DB to run queries on, I could work towards an answer too – alamoot Aug 7 at 23:40
  • Do you have links to share for APIs? @Joe – alamoot Aug 12 at 19:18
  • Oh, sorry - yes, there's a few links. gitlab.com/dword4/nhlapi/-/blob/master/stats-api.md is one, kevinsidwar.com/iot/2017/7/1/the-undocumented-nhl-stats-api is another. The main API endpoint is statsapi.web.nhl.com/api/v1 . – Joe Aug 13 at 0:29
  • Dallas Stars became the first team in NHL playoffs history to be down by 3 goals and then lead by 4 in the same game. It happened on game 6 of round one match up against Calgary flames (2019-20 season) – alamoot Aug 21 at 16:07
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Looking through old box scores, it happens fairly frequently - more than would be appropriate to list here. In 1982, for example, it happened twice in one series - LA Kings vs Edmonton Oilers, the Kings came back twice from down three, including this game where they were down an incredible 5 goals (down 5-0 after 1, won 6-5 in OT).

You can view my code to scrape hockey-reference.com for this on github, to see a complete list.

Taking a sampling (1980-1999):

  • 1980: 0
  • 1981: 0
  • 1982: 3
  • 1983: 2
  • 1984: 0
  • 1985: 3
  • 1986: 2
  • 1987: 2
  • 1988: 3
  • 1989: 1
  • 1990: 2
  • 1991: 2
  • 1992: 1 (ugh)
  • 1993: 3
  • 1994: 1
  • 1995: 0
  • 1996: 1
  • 1997: 2
  • 1998: 1
  • 1999: 0

From that same subset, it looks like about 40% of games at some point have a 3 goal lead by one team (This would, please note, include situations like an EN goal to ice the game), and about 5% of games where one team has a 3 goal lead include a comeback from down 3 or more by the winning team.

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  • Nice job. I edited to question so that it only asks for 3+ goal comebacks since 1980. Can you run your script and let it go till this year so we have a complete answer? – alamoot Aug 22 at 13:12

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